Doctors say vaccine incentives such as Alberta’s “Open for Summer” lottery and $100 gift cards recently announced for people getting their first and second doses aren’t enough to boost the province’s COVID-19 vaccination rates.
As of Monday, Alberta has the lowest percentage of eligible people who have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in the country, according to CBC’s vaccine tracking.
Doctors in the county say a vaccine passport or stronger restrictions on access to public places for those who haven’t been vaccinated are needed to increase the county’s vaccine rates — not more incentives.
“The lottery didn’t have a particularly big impact. So I’m not sure an individual incentive would make much of a difference either,” said Dr. Stephanie Smith, an infectious disease specialist at University of Alberta Hospital.
Did the lottery boost vaccine rates?
Analysis of Alberta Health’s daily vaccine data shows that after the $3 million vaccine lottery was announced on June 12, and the travel awards just days later, there was an increase in first-dose rates.
But by mid-July, when outdoor prizes were added to the sweepstakes, vaccination numbers from the first doses had largely stabilized.
“When we think about stimulating uptake of a vaccine, we expect it will really be the first dose that has to jump if people are going to be stimulated by the lottery,” Smith said.
Prime Minister Jason Kenney and Health Secretary Tyler Chandro justified the county lottery by citing Ohio’s vaccine lottery and increasing vaccine rates.
“The first evidence is there and lotteries can help increase vaccination rates,” Chandro said on June 14.
It was reported that vaccine uptake after the lottery was announced increased, but a study published on July 2 in Medical Journal gamma network It found no evidence “that a lottery-based incentive in Ohio was associated with increased rates of COVID-19 vaccinations for adults.”
The study authors noted an increase in the vaccine in Ohio and other states without lotteries when 12- to 15-year-olds became eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
In addition to the lottery, Alberta is now turning to $100 gift cards in hopes of boosting demand for vaccines, Kenney announced Friday.
“We’ve tried the lottery. We’ve seen a slight increase. It’s helped us a little bit. We’re going to try this. We don’t know if it will work or not,” Kenny said on Friday, adding that the incentive is cheaper than the cost of hospitalization from COVID-19.
Doctors in Alberta say the answer to increasing vaccine rates is not more incentives, but a passport or vaccine authorization that would restrict those without a first or second dose from visiting certain public places.
Dr. Shahzir Karmali, a general surgeon, said: “We are aware that there are different ways to gain acceptance for vaccines. One of them is clearly a preemptive idea for the lottery, but we are aware that it is not working as well as we want it to.” At the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton.
“We have to look at stronger measures to boost vaccinations. Other provinces and other countries have definitively introduced a vaccine passport or the idea that if you are not vaccinated, there will be limited access to the community, because that’s where we are.”
Edmonton in the morning5:19Pay the unvaccinated
In British Columbia, government officials have seen a massive increase in interest in the COVID-19 vaccine since the announcement of a new program that requires proof of vaccination.
Smith said Alberta should take note.
“When we look at places that created vaccine passports or enforce those mandates … there has been an increase in vaccine use,” Smith said.
“I think there is a much stronger indication that it is effective compared to motivating with gift cards or lotteries.”